Love Built Into the Structure of Reality: Love, 4

Over time, some of the strangers become friends – and xenia becomes philia – the love of friends. The context of the couple, the family, the hospitality to the passing stranger, affords a special place for those who are none of these: not a romantic affair, not family, yet no longer a stranger either: friend.

Through our friends, qualities and potentials in ourselves that would otherwise be invisible to us are reflected back to us. For Socrates, “one’s greatest desire should be to have good friends.” Friendship thus offers intimacy, yet multiplicity. Philia creates, says Socrates, “a soil the most glorious and fertile where we are sure to gather the fairest and best of fruit.”

Eros, storge, xenia, and philia: through these forms of love, we are bound by ties of recognition and concern. In these various relationships we acquire the ability to think what it might be like to be in the shoes of another person. We gain the narrative imagination which allows us to dream of a world in which our connections grow ever broader, deeper, higher, and wider. Our friends teach our souls the meaning of befriending – and thus make it possible to conceive of befriending everything – and thus we come to agape.
“In Hellenic Greece, agape was considered the highest form of love, self-sacrificial and unconditional love that springs from an overflowing within.” (Christopher Phillips, Socrates in Love, 227)
by Sharon Hudson (sharonhudson.com)
Through a quirk of language, the Greek word, agape, transliterated into the Roman alphabet, comes out spelled the same as the English word, agape. With agape, the heart, the soul stands agape: wide open to whatever may come – constantly astonished by beauty.

Agape is a capacity of awareness of the connectedness of all things – and since love is constituted by connection, agape is awareness of the fundamental love that makes up the structure of reality. It is the awareness that, as former president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, Bill Sinkford, put it:
“There is a love that has never broken faith with us and never will.”
Ultimately, there are no tidy divides between these forms of love. We cannot remake ourselves, our society, our universe if we do not harness all these types of love in concert.

To be complete calls for eros, storge, xenia, philia and agape.

In our sanctuary on a Sunday morning, there is some romance going on. Some of the people gathered are there with their partners. Some of them met their partner in our sanctuary. Others still might.

And in our congregation's building there is storge: some of those gathered came with their families. Parents have brought their children as an act of love for them to know the gift of authoritative community, and the congregation shares, to an extent, parental love of one another’s children. There is among us a love that feels familial.

And in a world where we so often don’t feel safe, our congregation offers us a way to love the stranger, to extend hospitality to those we have not met.

In our congregation, too, we form friendships – multiple yet intimate.

And in our congregation we practice to touch the divine, to get a taste, perhaps for just a moment, of love built into the structure of reality, through its suffering just as much as through its ecstasy.

Community Unitarian Church was built by the friendship of its members, by other friends before the current ones, and by friends of those friends going back to 1909. This place is sustained with our hands, and our hearts, and our thought. It was built by and is sustained with our love. It is where we learn day by day from each other how better to love.

Love, actually, is all around. Notice. Be very still a moment. Feel it in your fingers. Feel it in your toes.

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This is part 4 of 4 of "What's Love Got to Do with It?"
Click for other parts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

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